Making sense of smart cities

Fundamental queries on the Smart Cities Mission answered.

The objective of the Indian government’s ‘Smart Cities Initiative’ is to improve the quality of urban living for all residents with the use of smart technologies.

While a lot is being discussed and written about on smart cities, these discussions tend to focus on lofty urban planning perspectives and complicated economic hypotheses. This has resulted in the project becoming something of an unfathomable doctrine rather than something that makes sense. Excerpts from an interview:

What services will a smart city offer?

The objective of the Indian government’s ‘Smart Cities Initiative’ is to improve the quality of urban living for all residents with the use of smart technologies. Having said that, the transformation from a ‘normal’ city to a ‘smart’ city is more of an evolution than revolution. A smart city is different in terms of liveability, workability, and sustainability. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) component used in infrastructure will do most of the heavy-lifting work such as improving infrastructure, environment, and governance, through data-driven systems.

Citizens will also get advantages such as:

Overall digital connectivity, which means that broadband communication infrastructure and innovative services will combine to meet the needs of the Government and its employees, as well as citizens and businesses

Collective intelligence helps not only urban planners, but also increases the city’s competitiveness and provides opportunities for active participation from citizens in processes, thanks to open data.

Will only tech-savvy, younger citizens be able to enjoy its benefits?

It would be a mistake to assume that only high-earning college graduates or tech-savvy, younger citizens will receive the benefits. The objective of this movement is to improve the quality of urban living for all. Nevertheless, smart cities will still have to ‘sell’ themselves to the common man, who will need to be made aware of how this transformation could improve their lives. With the deep penetration of smart phones into our society, getting citizens to understand the value of connectivity should not be too big a challenge.

Given the level of services that will be offered, will it in fact be more expensive to live in them?

To think that better services will come with additional costs is a mistake, since the smart initiatives employed in these cities will reduce many costs and improve productivity, in turn reducing the burden on their residents. Also, smart city implementation will mostly come as a government subsidy and not as an additional expense for residents.

Is it easier and more viable to launch a ‘Greenfield’ smart city or convert an existing ‘Brownfield’ city into a smart one?

The evolutionary transformation (an existing city’s development into a smart city) will prove to be more affordable than revolutionary (Greenfield) development. However, revolutions inspire a lot more emotion and commitment than evolutionary changes. India needs more retrofitting of existing cities and infrastructure through the initiative, and not just development of Greenfield cities.

It would be easier to develop Greenfield Smart Cities, except for the aspect of land acquisition. The current controversies associated with the Land Acquisition Bill and the lack of an environment that enables land acquisition easily, seamlessly and without delays, would be a serious bottleneck in positioning these Greenfield Smart Cities. The advantages, however, are numerous: Proactive planning would mean that there are little or no difficulties related to upgradation and/or improvement of smart systems. They would also allow for better management and forecasting for budgetary expenses, and it would be easier to expand capacities, with minimal disruption of city operations, at a later stage.

Will the formation of one smart city cause property prices to rise unnaturally in adjoining areas, even if these areas do not provide the quality of life that the smart city does?

Areas with better infrastructure will fetch better real estate value due to higher demand and hence, in the formation of smart cities, land and property values will increase.

Will property rates be driven up by speculative investment?

If smart city principles are implemented strictly, these property markets will address demands of the end-users and not speculative investors. The formation of housing development corporations and other authorities as part of smart governance will prevent speculation from these realty markets.

Source: TH

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